EU Porn Ban Distracts From Larger Issues For Women and Girls

The EU resolution on Eliminating Gender Stereotypes, also known as the "EU ban on porn," proposed in December of 2012, has gotten a lot of press, but its true purpose remains woefully unexamined.

The resolution is premised on the fact that women in the labor market are under-represented, invisible or portrayed in a manner which perpetuates gender discrimination. Hot on the heels of this controversial resolution is the proposed ban on the "sexualization of girls."

But why do either of these measures matter, and what do they aim to do to end gender discrimination?

If this particular EU resolution becomes one of the most talked about in the U.S., it is not because there has been a notable change in American attitudes about gender bias. Sex discrimination has hardly changed since 1997 and increased slightly over the last six years. The hype is simply over the improbable likelihood of EU member states legislating for a "ban on porn," while many key issues pertaining to gender rights are patronizingly played down as 'laudable' or 'idealistic'. 

The available data on porn consumption on the internet indicates that in 2010, of the million most trafficked websites, 4% were porn sites. This is clearly underwhelming, indicating that there are other substantive gender rights issues for the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality to bring to the EU parliament.

Further, virtually every media form sexualizes women. A major U.S. report has shown that sexualizing girls, especially in the media, has a detrimental impact on the lives of boys and men.  In essence, there can be no human rights without gender rights. Since the media is a major cultural contributor to the sexualization of women and girls, it will be interesting to note if there will be an immediate call for action to vote against the resolution, or if a common sense approach will be taken. 

The inadvertent distraction of banning porn was a miscalculation on the part of the committee. As a result, the "ban on porn" was conveniently portrayed as the entire spirit and intention of the resolution. Framing gender rights in this way undermines the urgency needed to curtail discrimination against women and girls.

For instance, internationally, women are less likely to participate in the labor market and if they do, they are discriminated against. In the European Union, there are large disparities between women and men when it comes to participation in the labor market.

I predict that the vote to ban the "sexualisation of girls" will have less publicity than the "EU ban on porn" resolution. If I am correct, it will demonstrate that gender rights are “other rights,” and by inference, inferior.

 

Albert Camus aptly stated, “… good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” Banning the '"sexualization of girls" is undertaken with good intentions, but perhaps the committee bringing the resolution to a vote needs a novel approach, not one laden with inadvertent distractions.

It is encouraging that free speech has been so zealously defended, but it should never be at the expense of highlighting the jarring data which shows that gender discrimination and stereotypes continue to affect women and girls. Still, the debate is always worth the failed vote; it is an opportunity to revisit the issue with a balanced approach, which will address the key aspects of the resolution, including the elimination of gender stereotypes.

Whatever the outcome, any debate on the rights of girls is a victory because it sends the message that gender rights are here to stay.